In the old democracy, people chose between various options, candidates like George H. Bush and Michael Dukakis, for example. In the new democracy, people will collaborate to create their own policies, rather than simply griping about the proposals of elites.
There are a variety of technologies that will enable this. Publishing and communication no longer needs to be routed through central points like the local newspaper or TV and radio stations. The Internet is going to be essential to this at some level. But the real advances in technology have little to do with hardware and a great deal to do with our ability to create a conversation.
Creative dialogue ought to be the fuel for policy formulation. Simply learning what is going on in people’s lives and, rather than imposing some notion of how or why they deserve their fate or are victims, creating a conversation about what is and what is possible. Currently, with the emphasis on elections, this kind of conversation is nearly impossible for candidates. It’s hard to formulate policy that works when you’re busy imposing your view of the world onto people’s consciousness.
The real catch 22 for policy formulation is the seeming intractability of reality from perception. A rock doesn’t much care about your perception of it: thrown at the proper trajectory, it’ll smack you in the side of the head. By contrast, social realities are rooted in perceptions. You’ll see it when you believe it, is the quip. David Bohm said that most apparent problems were actually paradoxes that traced back to a root paradox about self awareness.
“However, when one beings to think about himself , and especially about his own thoughts and feelings, then if one observes carefully, he will find that this approach leads to a paradoxical pattern of activity. The paradox is that whereas one is treating his own thinking and feeling as something separate from and independent of the thought that is thinking about them, it is evident that in fact there is, and can be, no such separation and independence.”
The technological innovation that is needed for the next major advance in democracy is the ability to suspend advocacy. The next democracy will have more to do with conversations than speeches. The point is not to win the argument; the point is to adapt and adapt to reality.
Lest you too quickly scoff at this possibility, we might be moving in this direction. McCain has proposed regular sessions with Congress akin to those argumentative bouts between the British Prime Minister and Parliament. Obama has said that he will post all non-emergency legislation online for five days, soliciting comments from anyone and everyone before he would sign it. These are small steps, but they seem to me indicative of the kind of promises candidates must make to get our vote.
When groups begin to convene to formulate and implement policy, we have a chance for policy to become more important than campaigning. Maybe the best part about this is what it suggests about a shift in power.
Russell Ackoff makes the distinction between "power over" and "power to." If you have power over someone, you can restrain them from doing certain things. You keep them from polluting or driving on the wrong side of the road. If you give people power to, you enable them to do certain things. They can make money in jobs you prepared them for with education or live longer in spite of cancer that you cured.
As democracy is now practiced, it seems to much focused on power over - who is going to win, which party is going to rule? In this alternative democracy, the focus can land where it ought: on power to.